Saturday, August 06, 2022


An Autodidact

Goethe, Den Originalen, I (tr. David Luke):
A certain So-and-so declares: 'I belong to no school,
I go a-whoring after no living master,
and nothing could be further from me
than to have learnt anything from the dead.'
That is to say (if I have understood him aright):
I am a fool after my own fashion.

Ein Quidam sagt: »Ich bin von keiner Schule!
Kein Meister lebt, mit dem ich buhle;
Auch bin ich weit davon entfernt,
Daß ich von Toten was gelernt.«
Das heißt, wenn ich ihn recht verstand:
»Ich bin ein Narr auf eigne Hand.«
Ernst Maass, Goethe und die Antike (Berlin, Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1912), p. 467, compared Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.2.4 (Euthydemus speaking; tr. E.C. Marchant):
Men of Athens, I have never yet learnt anything from anyone, nor when I have been told of any man's ability in speech and in action, have I sought to meet him, nor have I been at pains to find a teacher among the men who know. On the contrary, I have constantly avoided learning anything of anyone, and even the appearance of it.

παρ᾽ οὐδενὸς μὲν πώποτε, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, οὐδὲν ἔμαθον, οὐδ᾽ ἀκούων τινὰς εἶναι λέγειν τε καὶ πράττειν ἱκανοὺς ἐζήτησα τούτοις ἐντυχεῖν, οὐδ᾽ ἐπεμελήθην τοῦ διδάσκαλόν τινά μοι γενέσθαι τῶν ἐπισταμένων, ἀλλὰ καὶ τἀναντία· διατετέλεκα γὰρ φεύγων οὐ μόνον τὸ μανθάνειν τι παρά τινος, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ δόξαι.
Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to Béla Bartók Jun., "The Private Man," in Malcolm Gillies, ed., The Bartók Companion (London: Faber and Faber, 1993), pp.18-29 (at 21-22):
He held that the study of languages was an important way of gaining a broad education, and showed exemplary application to such study. When he set out to learn a language he bought the best available textbook and dictionary, and some kind of fairly simple reader. He always studied alone — or, perhaps, together with his wife — but never with a teacher or with any other assistance. He prepared a precise and detailed word-list, effecting at the same time a study of comparative linguistics. Frequently he compiled a vocabulary of two foreign languages. While still at secondary school he became acquainted with Latin and Ancient Greek, and then studied German, French, Romanian and Slovakian. (Regarding his Slovakian, there is no question — as some would like us to believe — that he took to studying it because of his mother's coming from Túrócszentmárton (Slovakia). His mother did not even speak the language.) Later, he learnt Italian and English. He took up Spanish, Arabic, Ruthenian, Serbian and Finnish — and Turkish in greater detail — although he could not speak in these languages.

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